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Digital keeps moving at a scary pace so this start-up is offering real future-proof training


Tired of talking about digital skills issues, two experts set about creating an institution that is providing real future-proof education and training solutions to develop a better digital industry in Australia.

We have moved beyond the traditional competition of digital versus traditional. Now, there is traditional digital, and new digital. Digital 2.0 — and it moves at a scary pace. A pace so fast that it is hard to lay claim to being a digital expert. You can be an expert in a digital sector, but not digital as a whole. Even then, the digital tide comes in so fast that it’s hard to keep up with your own speciality.

This was the issue that Charbel Zeaiter and Ben Wong faced. Both digital experts in their own rights (Charbel owns a service and experience design agency, Velvet Onion, while Ben has founded and developed multiple digital solutions after moving from the finance industry), they both noticed the skills gap widening as technology pushed forward and those digitally trained didn’t have the time, opportunity or initiative to see it widen and close the gap.

A digital gap appears…

The issue was particularly relevant to Charbel, noticing it within his own agency as well inside the clients he was working with. Charbel has had over 15 years experience in agencies including M&C Saatchi, Publicis, Tongue and more. He noticed the gap gradually begin to widen at an early stage.

Ben, meanwhile, worked across a number of start-ups and was regularly faced with new digital challenges that became more complex. Where previously it had been relatively easy to find an expert developer in a particular field, it was starting to become harder to find the right person who knew what consumers wanted not just today, but tomorrow as well.

Both had a taste of working with other digital training institutions and knew there was a better and more relevant way of creating a solution to digital training. A solution that was cost effective, relevant and inclusive. A solution that didn’t alienate people and was able to fit into their lives.

Academy Xi co-founders Ben Wong and Charbel Zeaiter
Ben and Charbel

…a start-up is born.

In 2015 Charbel began running short courses from the Velvet Onion offices. Such was the take up that he decided to push forward in 2016 and startup a full-blown digital training school with his colleague Ben — Academy Xi (pronounced Ex Eye) was born.

Academy Xi’s aim was simple. Technology is rapidly evolving causing a significant skills gap. There is a shortage of digital talent with over 250,000 hybrid jobs unfilled in 2015. Traditional education models are not able to supply this growth. Academy Xi would help fill the gap.

Charbel and Ben’s business idea and courses were so thorough that they quickly gained a reputation as real digital problem solvers, so much so that Vivant Ventures and Annie Parker (co-founder of Muru D and chair of Code Club) decided to invest in Academy Xi the seed capital amount of $260,000.

Seven months on and Academy Xi has a staff of 10, a fully decked out training facility in one of Australia’s leading technology hub’s, Surry Hills (Sydney, NSW) and has pioneered courses in new technologies including virtual reality. It is also expanding to Melbourne this month, based at the Dream Factory, a hub for socially conscious start-ups and entrepreneurs, and looking to other markets both locally and globally.

Academy XiWhat exactly does Academy Xi teach?

Academy Xi works on three founding pillars. The main brand of training courses conducted both in-house and in the offices of clients. Xi Act, a not-for-profit arm that gives those in need access to the same quality training of the main brand (clients include Cerebral Palsy, WWF and various international associations helping those in need). Finally, Xi Think brings the backbone of Academy Xi — plugging the digital skills gap — into an open forum for discussion through curated thought leadership events to open up communication about the big issues. The learnings of which will help deliver new solutions.

Academy Xi“Academy Xi currently offers part-time courses with full-time options coming in 2017. The courses are 10 weeks in duration and are deliberately structured to be intense, covering everything from the basics to best practice,” Charbel told Anthill.

“We are continually updating our courses to ensure the topics are current, relevant and contain real-world experiences in order to embed learnings and maximise outcomes.

“Our philosophy with all courses, bootcamps and workshops is three distinct pillars; present, practice and embed. Present theory and real world examples. Practice in detail the theory just presented. Embed (for longer courses and two-day bootcamps) with after-course work to instill the learnings. This technique gives students the best outcomes no matter what the length of the course.

“User Experience Design was the first course launched at Academy Xi. We’re now enrolling students for our 11th. It has been joined by Virtual Reality, Product Management, Growth Marketing and Service Design.”

Charbel Zeaiter
Charbel Zeaiter

Charbel and Ben through Academy Xi are about training in new digital. Teaching the future for the future. Openly discussing the issues faced today in digital and providing the solutions which will help now and in the future. That is why they have taken a gamble on offering Virtual Reality training. And that is why the will continually look to offer what other training solutions don’t.

Academy Xi has a campus in Surry Hills, Sydney and they are now open for business in Melbourne from this week, running courses out of the Dream Factory. The start-up currently counts Disney, Vivant, The Loop, WWF, OpenIDEO and Western Sydney University as partners and it works with Lendlease, Staples, Salmat, NRMA, The White Agency, News.com.au, NSW Education and many others. Academy Xi also runs regular events and created tailored client training solutions.